We had the good fortune of connecting with Rona Chang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rona, what inspires you?
My bicultural background and experience growing up in Taiwan and New York City developed my openness to the cultural exchange of ideas. Likewise, during my extensive experience working in a museum environment, and working with and visiting many art collections developed my style at OTTO FINN, which emphasizes textiles with stories and bold prints. The Japanese woodblock prints and Indian paintings in the Asian Art department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art have served as a source of inspiration ever since I worked with them.
I began creating our signature kimono inspired jackets after co-opening our storefront, Make + Matter. My partners were other women-owned sustainable small businesses that encouraged me to create something that was authentic to me and for our eco-conscious, small business loving audience. Our jackets come full circle for us; from my museum experience, art background, belief in sustainability to my love and appreciation of cultural textiles.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
At OTTO FINN we make sustainable clothing and accessories that allow our customers to manifest who they are distinctly and comfortably. Our textiles have a storied past. Their uniqueness allows the wearer to empower and embrace their individuality. They fit many figures, age groups and all genders. Our signature products are kimono inspired jackets that are made from wool blankets, American quilts, and vintage kanthas. Kanthas are quilts traditionally from the Bengali region made from old saris or other discarded cloth with a running stitch. We often tell our customers that our kantha quilt jackets are living their third life.
We constantly innovate ways to use our production scraps to further make use of our upcycled materials. Reusing textiles is an effective method to build sustainability in the apparel industry which is the second largest polluter (after petroleum). We make smaller products such as coasters, headbands, cowl neck warmers and clutches with our scraps. We believe in extending love and kindness to everyone in our community and our planet with our images, messaging, and our work. Our colorful one of a kind pieces are a testament to the beautiful, creative & diverse folks who wear OTTO
OTTO FINN is an extension of myself. Sustainability, diversity and inclusion are core tenets of OTTO FINN. We run a sustainable business because we believe we can encourage each other to treat the planet better. As an Asian American mother, involved community member, artist, and small business owner, I see the business as a way to address many of the issues that challenge me individually and us as a society. I’m a one person operation with finite time who wants to put that limited time toward what will move the needle forward with growth and reach, and be strategic with my choices and opportunities. It’s not easy but I keep showing up. That is half the battle! I’m also grateful for many of the women in all areas of my life who have stepped up and offered their hand to give me a boost.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My best friend from HS now lives in LA so I don’t see her often. It would be a treat to have her in Pittsburgh for a week. If she arrived on a Friday, I would show her around my studio at Radiant Hall. We’d have dinner at Gaucho, an Argentinian Restaurant downtown for the first night she’s in. They obviously make great steak (which she loves) but also a hearty salad that I often crave.
For the weekend, we’d take a drive and head to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water House that he built for the Kaufmann family. I did a residency there a few years back and it was a wonderful experience to be immersed in all the design elements of the house. We can easily spend the day there, take a tour and hike the grounds. The following day, we would see nearby Polymath Park and Kentuck Knob.
For the rest of the week, we would hit some hiking trails. One of my favorite things about living in the city is the proximity to lots of trails within a 15-30 min drive. My German Shepherd Poker and I would show her Frick Park, Highland Park, Hartwood Acres, Fall Run, and Riverview Park. We’d also go up on the incline and I’d ask her what she thinks of it compared to the one at the Peak in Hong Kong where we vacationed together.
If my kids were off from school, they’d show her the crazy slide we helped build in Duncan Park and Blue Slide Park where kids slide down with a piece of cardboard.
We would need to feast daily. We’d have brunch at Square Cafe in East Liberty. They have great Brussels Sprout Hash served over grits and lots of other hearty dishes. We’d go to the Lawrenceville and Bloomfield Farmer’s Markets, get sandwiches at Duncan Street Sandwich Shop, boba tea and egg waffles at Tsaocaa, Tonic Coffee, Madeline’s bakery, pizza at Piccolo Forno, Thai at Pusadee’s Garden, and Chinese at How Lee. In between eating, we’d stop into some of our favorite shops in the city including Wildcard, love, Pittsburgh, Una Biologicals, Argyle, Contemporary Craft, Lovett Sundries, and Meshwork Press.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I went to High School at La Guardia in NYC. It’s a specialized HS for kids who are interested in the arts. One of the best things I did was take AP Art History with Betsy Goldberg. She was a firecracker of a teacher and shared personal slides from her travels alongside the standard issue ones, talked with her hands waving up and down, had us sketch as she clicked through slides and made art and culture come alive in our classroom.
We had to do museum reports and I was often at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has led to a lifelong relationship with the museum, its collection, and Betsy. My family and I just traveled back to NYC and visited our Met Family and Betsy Goldberg. Our kids were able to hang out in Betsy’s apt, where she has an amazing studio and her paintings, drawings, sketches all over the walls. She continues to inspire me, my work and my family.